Impressive AEK win in Croatia

Ignacio «Nacho» Scocco scored one goal and set up another to lead the AEK soccer club to a 3-1 victory over Hajduk Split in Croatia for the Europa League group stage last night, its first away win in Europe this season. Pumped by its victory over Olympiakos for the league last Saturday (1-0 at home), AEK played its most composed game of the season and needs no more than one point in its last group game in two weeks’ time at home against Russia’s Zenit Saint Petersburg to seal its place for the next round. The half-empty stadium at Split, with no more than 15,000 Croatian fans, due to recent poor domestic performances by Hajduk, saw AEK weather the storm of the hosts’ attacks in the last half-hour of the first half and then apply their own pressure in the second half after having begun with a strong 15 minutes at the start of the game. A solid Papa Bouba Diop in midfield and resourceful forward Nathan Burns gave AEK the edge, both when defending and when attacking on a muddy pitch after 10 days of rain. Burns should have earned a penalty at the start of the second half, but it was Scocco who got one a couple of minutes later, converting it successfully in the 50th minute. Then a powerful header by Kostas Manolas from a Scocco corner from the right put AEK two goals ahead in the 61st minute. Ismael Blanco wrapped it up for AEK in the 84th with a bouncing shot from the right that beat Hajduk goalkeeper Bozidar Radosevic. Jurica Buljat pulled one back for Hajduk in injury time but it was too little, too late for the hosts, who have now been eliminated. AEK is second in its group, with seven points from five games, eight points behind group winner Zenit and three points ahead of Belgium’s Anderlecht. The top two teams in each group advance to the next stage. Late last night, Aris was visiting Atletico Madrid for the same competition, while tonight PAOK is hosting Club Brugge in Thessaloniki. If PAOK beats the Belgians and Spain’s Villarreal loses at home to Dinamo Zagreb in the group’s other game, PAOK will advance to the next round of the competition with one more game left to play. Separately, Super League side Kerkyra announced yesterday it has replaced coach Babis Tennes with former Olympiakos manager Bozidar Bandovic.

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